Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Baby Steps

Where to begin in reconstructing the immigrant saga of my own grandfather? I can't start from his landing place in New York City; I've already combed the records there with little results. Despite providing a date of arrival in May, 1884, even his naturalization papers fail to mention the name of the ship on which he arrived. Perhaps that was because Theodore J. Puhalski was not quite eight years of age when he arrived. Or perhaps it was owing to a more deliberate omission, when he completed the immigration process later in life. I can't be quite sure.

It wasn't as if this were the only omission my paternal grandfather had made, in the few times he opened up to reveal a clue about his origin. I've managed to assemble those scattered hints over years of research in a joint effort with my siblings and cousins. But they still didn't add up to anything as productive as the hint I gained when one—and then five more—DNA matches showed up last summer in the various testing sites I've used in the past six years. Starting from those matches' trees, I'm gaining a clearer glimpse at what my grandfather's origins might actually have been.

Today, we'll start with what I know about the surnames these matches have in common with each other. That will lead to a possible nexus with my grandfather's own sparse tree—only a possibility, mind you, as I haven't yet been able to locate verifying documentation. Those are baby steps lying before us, and we need to consider each step slowly and carefully.

The surname which seems to be held jointly by all those DNA matches—or at least connected to their lines—is Michalski. Not that that means I am related to that line, myself, but that in each of those family trees, there is likely a surname which can explain their connection to each other—and to my grandfather. That extended Michalski line, though originating in Poland, mostly seemed to settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

If you are realizing that Milwaukee is a far distance from New York City, you are an astute observer. However, many of these DNA matches, in relation to me as test taker, are anywhere from second to fourth cousins. We have plenty of time between the late 1880s until our current twenty-first century to draw the lines of connection between families in these two distant locations.

That line of connection, at least in 1890s Milwaukee, starts with two Michalski relatives. One, named Piotr—conveniently Americanized to Peter by the time of the 1905 Wisconsin state census—arrived in the United States with his young family sometime around 1888. The other, a man named J√≥zef—or, in American style, Joseph, at least according to the 1900 census—arrived here in 1886.

How the two Michalski men are related, I cannot yet tell. However, there was one detail held in common between these two Michalski men in Milwaukee: they both had married wives back in Poland whose maiden names were Czechowska. As it turned out, it was that surname I needed to follow more closely, for one main reason: it might somehow connect with the unfortunate mother of my own father's Aunt Rose.

Above: Finding the naturalization records of Theodore J. Puhalski was an encouraging discovery—until I realized his 1905 documentation inconveniently skipped over any mention of the ship on which he arrived in New York; image courtesy Ancestry.com.

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